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Forsaking All Others

Gasser

Forsaking All Others (1934)

     I think we all remember Joan Crawford for the roles in which she played commanding women, perhaps because she was one off screen, but when she was still fiddling about with basic romantic comedies, she was not foreign to the lovesick-gal-chasing-after-a-lover-type roles, as was her part in a well cast Forsaking All Others. Here we also find Clark Gable in a role we will not remember him for because he takes the part of a man regimented to best friend status as he pines for the girl set to marry the third member of the trio. In that third role, Robert Montgomery does shine forth in his standard a-cad-that-one-can’t-help-but-love character.

     Crawford as Mary is readying herself for tomorrow’s wedding ceremony with childhood friend Dillon (Montgomery). Making the occasion complete is the return of Jeff (Gable) –another childhood friend– from Spain who arrives ready to propose to the young woman until he learns the “joyous” news of the impending marriage. During what should have been a bachelor dinner, Dill instead gets held up by his last girlfriend Connie (Frances Drake) and the man never shows. Dill also fails to show at the church the next day, and Jeff eventually receives a cable indicating the groom has instead married his ex.

     To get away from the embarrassment, Mary heads off to a cabin in the New York wilderness. When Jeff visits with her mail, she finds she is invited to a party hosted by Dill and Connie –an attempt by the latter to upset the jilted bride. To prove her recovery from her last relationship, Mary attends, with Jeff on her arm. It is at the party that Dill discovers ashamedly his wife’s evil plot and confesses his enduring love for Mary. The two attempt to take up an affair and head out on a fun-filled adventure into the country to what would have been their honeymoon house. The trip is marked by comedic disasters and the couple are rained into the house for the night, but Mary refuses to go to bed with the man. Connie seeks a divorce because of the seeming infidelity and the story comes full circle to the wedding of Mary and Dill, at least momentarily.

     All characters in Forsaking All Others are likeable, even Montgomery whose Dill cannot seem to synch his physical and emotional impulses with his own logic. The story does a great job of convincing us that Mary wants no one but Dill and so should we root for their reunion even if Jeff has stood by as the more sympathetic male lead. Gable wears his emotions on his face for the camera while concealing them from the other characters, which is not something we often see with him. The Jeff character is also joined by comedic sidekick Shep (Charles Butterworth) who lends much of the comic relief and witty dialogue. Billie Burke is also on hand as a woman who considers Mary her daughter and is intertwined in all the rumblings.

     Forsaking All Others is nothing special in the realm of romantic comedies, nor in the careers of its players, but it is a delightfully enchanting love story that will give one the warm fuzzies, if that’s what is sought in a movie.

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Piccadilly Jim

Ring a Ding Ding

Piccadilly Jim (1936)

     I was nearly jumping for joy last week upon discovering the movie Piccadilly Jim because not only does it star love-of-my-life Robert Montgomery but it is based on a P.G. Wodehouse story, an author I greatly admire and one capable of cute romance with an abundance of witty dialogue.

     Montgomery plays the title character whose real name is Jim Crocker. Piccadilly Jim is the pen name he uses for his political cartoons published in an English newspaper. Despite being American, Jim resides in England and enjoys a life of too much drinking and too little work. When his butler Bayliss, expertly played by Eric Blore, wakes Jim at the “crack of dusk”, he is informed his father is awaiting an audience with the party boy. The relationship between Jim and father James (Frank Morgan) is a comical reversal on the typical father-son set-up. James is there to ask for his son’s help/approval in marrying a woman. Because this father –a Shakespearean actor who continually has his quotes completed by Bayliss– is less well off than his son, he needs the financial and phony prestige his son presents to convince his girlfriend’s sister that he is a decent mate who can put up a dowry.

     The woman in question Eugenia, played by Billie Burke –for those Wizard of Oz fans, you will note this is a coupling of Glinda and the Wizard– and her sister’s family is a set of wealthy Americans who made their millions through a process to turn cloth scraps back into standard material. The meeting between Eugenia’s family, the Petts, and Jim does not go over well, however. Not only is he late, but they discover that despite James’ description of his son as a serious artist, he is in fact a lowly cartoonist. Not only that, but he has been fired from his job.

     What ultimately results in the Pett’s  rejection of James as a suitable husband leads Jim to develop a comic strip based on the family called “Rags to Riches” and makes fools out of the Petts, or Richwitches as they are known in the strip. The family is oblivious, however, because they are back in the U.S. and the comic runs only in England.

     While all the father drama is occurring, Jim has spotted a beautiful American girl who happens to be seeing a Lord Priory (Ralph Forbes), but that does nothing to dampen Jim’s determination to land her. The girl, Ann (Madge Evans), is willing to accept the man’s advances, but is devoted to her current beau. Jim spends several months frequenting the places he had seen Ann and does not learn until months later she had been in America, but is back in town again. The trouble is, Ann is niece to the Petts and that family’s return to England has brought with it many a jeering and cackling onlooker who recognizes the family as the Richwitches. Jim manages to conceal from Ann that he is Piccadilly Jim as he spends the remainder of the story trying to woo her away from a profitable but loveless marriage to Priory.

     My only complaint about Piccadilly Jim is that it did not contain enough of the Wodehouse-esqe dialogue I would expect from one of his stories. Every now and then I could spot a fast-paced or otherwise dryly hilarious string of phrases, but otherwise it did not necessarily feel like his type of story. What I did enjoy immensely was seeing Montgomery in a romantic role again. It seems I have subjected myself mainly to his war and otherwise nonsexual roles as of late. The romantic plot is certainly very adorable and is the rare time Montgomery plays a man genuinely in love, rather than a cad looking for another fling.

     The story on the whole is full of laughs. Eric Blore, who often plays a servant or other nervous character, was perfect as the butler, and Frank Morgan garnered the usual laughs, especially as he masquerades as a Russian count. The Pett family also has a young boy, Ogden (Tommy Bupp), who spews nonstop snarky lines, trips unsuspecting strangers, and draws mustaches on marble busts and antique portraits. I had a lot of fun with Piccadilly Jim  and highly recommend it.

Fast and Loose

Ring a Ding Ding

Fast and Loose (1939)

      The success of The Thin Man movies clearly proved that audiences did not need a blossoming romance tacked onto their mystery thrillers and that a devoted husband-wife set up was just as appealing. A trilogy of “Fast” movies were the result in 1938 and 1939 as MGM sought to capitalize on the complaint that too much time elapsed between the release of each Thin Man picture. 

     Fast and Loose starring Robert Mongtomery and Rosalind Russell was the second of three films featuring mystery-solving booksellers Joel and Garda Sloane; however, each film featured different stars in those roles. For the first, Fast Company, Melvyn Douglas and Florence Rice filled the parts. The last, Fast and Furious, featured Franchot Tone and Ann Southern as our married sleuths. I have not seen the other two flicks, and while I think the leading men in all three would be great as Joel, I do believe I picked the best actress to play the devoted wife.

     Montgomery’s Joel is very much like Nick Charles in his reluctance to engage in crime solving using his extensive powers of rare book knowledge. In Fast and Loose he is unaware he will be engaged in such crime-solving until he is knee-deep in trouble. The Sloanes visit rare book collector Nicholas Torrent (Ralph Morgan) to broker a deal for a absent-minded grocer who seeks to purchase a rare Shakespeare manuscript from the cash-strapped man. The couple stay in the house overnight when Joel is alerted to a crash that turns out to be someone knocking out family friend Vincent Charlton (Reginald Owen), who was examining the manuscript in the dark at the house safe. The manuscript is found nearby but the question of forgery starts to surface as we learn the Torrent librarian has a prison record related to forgery. Next, Nicholas Torrent is murdered at his desk and Joel finds himself an on-and-off suspect in the case all while trying to solve it himself.

      The difficulty comes in the mass amount of suspicious characters. Joel’s friend Phil (Anthony Allan) who is secretly dating the Torrent daughter, seems rather shady and possibly in cahoots with the Torrent son Gerald, played by Tom Collins. Meanwhile, Gerald makes contact with a “hussy” –as Garda calls her– and the gambling joint owner with whom she pals around. The librarian with a felony record, who has disappeared, looks like the sure culprit, but he is later found stuffed into a suit of armor, dead. Joel’s meddling also earns him a nudge off the roadway by another car, driven by goons of the gambling heavy, and he begins to worry about his wife’s safety. In true Nora Charles fashion, however, Garda is a tough broad who talks big and enjoys watching her husband sock the bad guys.

     I typically complain in films like this that there are too many characters to keep track of and remember their names, which can make figuring out the story rather difficult (ala The Big Sleep). Fast and Loose did a fantastic job, however, of making clear the names of each character so when they are referenced later I could understand about whom they were speaking. This is also a nearly impossible mystery to crack, but we thankfully get a summary of the events at the close of the film with the revelation of the murderer, a technique also employed in The Thin Man.

     Montgomery makes a great detective. He would further prove this when he directed his own Lady in the Lake years later, playing a full-blown private eye. The man has never had trouble on the charm front and proceeds through his mystery-solving work with all the ease of a pro. Russell is very enjoyable as the loving sidekick. She is quite down to earth while fitting in with the lofty society in whose company the couple finds itself. The two leads also have good chemistry. They seem like a comfortable married couple and the romantic basis of their relationship comes to the surface each time Garda becomes jealous of the company her husband keeps.

     As long as one does not compare Fast and Loose too closely to The Thin Man, a marvelous time is sure to be had. One would not think the subject of rare books could work as the backdrop for a thrilling murder mystery, but it does. Who knew a person could take a background in manuscript sales and use it to work as a police consultant? Only in the movies, I suppose.

Cinematic Shorts: Here Comes Mr. Jordan

Wowza!

Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941)

     I’m not sure how I stumbled upon watching Here Comes Mr. Jordan the first time, but it was a fortuitous incident. This flick is probably my favorite Robert Montgomery movie, which competes with Mr. and Mrs. Smith for that top spot (and you can understand my dilemma because the other has Carole Lombard in it). I would say no other film shows off Montgomery’s comedy capabilities in the way this feature does. He plays a character totally unlike the military and society dreamboat roles in which he was typically cast.

     As Joe Pendelton, a successful boxer, Montgomery plays a dimwitted man more concerned with keeping his body “in the pink” and defeating a boxing rival than anything else around him. Towards the film’s start, Joe crashes his self-piloted plane, and heavenly beings take him away. The trouble is, the heavenly worker assigned to his case, Messenger 7031 (Edward Everett Horton) takes him before the plane hits the ground, and as it turns out, Joe was destined to survive the crash. The damage is done, however, and Joe is delivered to Mr. Jordan, played by Claude Rains, who must find a suitable body for the man to live out the remainder of his scheduled life.

     Joe is given a temporary spot occupying the body of a man who is about to be murdered by his wife and her lover. He’s an older, wealthy bloke who also has some unkind dealings that involve a beautiful young woman, with whom Joe will fall in love. All sorts of absurdities happen as Joe, looking like the old man, tries to convince his boxing agent (James Gleason) of his real identity and get the old body “in the pink” to defeat his rival in the ring.

     If the story sounds familiar, that’s because it was based on a play called “Heaven Can Wait” that was later done into another movie by that name starring Warren Beatty. This original also inspired a sequel, but Rains was not interested and Montgomery was serving in the military, so the Mr. Jordan part was recast and Rita Hayworth was used as the mythical muse of the performing arts to interfere with goings on of a theatrical production. It was quite a let down.

     Going back to Here Comes Mr. Jordan, I can not say enough about Montgomery’s performance. His low-brow accent accompanies humorous dialogue to give the impression of a man who has been knocked out a few too many times. That is not to say his ignorance is not endearing. Montgomery’s facial expressions also add to this character’s hilarious persona as he stumbles through a whole host of accidental circumstances. I highly recommend this flick for anyone who enjoys comedies.

The messenger explains why Joe and his lucky sax aren't on earth where they should be.

Source: Robert Osborne

Feature: My Momentary Celebrity Obsession – Robert Montgomery

My craze over Robert Montgomery has been going on for some time now, more than a year, I would say. Like Carole Lombard, I was first exposed to Montgomery in Hitchcock‘s only purely comedic American endeavor, Mr. and Mrs. Smith. The movie is a riot, and I regret the duo did not work together more. Montgomery won me over by being both funny and unrelentingly handsome/charming.

Robert Montgomery

Not long thereafter I caught Montgomery in Here Comes Mr. Jordan, based on the play (which would later become a Warren Beatty movie) “Heaven Can Wait.” He plays a boxer whose life is taken prematurely and so the folks in heaven try to find a suitable body in which he can complete is life expectancy. It is possible Montgomery has never been more funny, and the role earned him an Oscar nomination.

Romantic comedies were Montgomery’s milieu when he came to Hollywood around 1929 from the stage where he hooked up with George Cukor, thus facilitating his segue into film. He typically was cast as the socialite playboy who always got the girl despite how much of a heel his characters could be. He pressed for more dramatic roles and really showed his stuff in The Big House in which he plays a jailhouse snitch. He also got a great break when cast against type as a conniving killer in Night Must Fall, which earned him another Oscar nomination.

Montgomery would serve in the Navy during WWII and played several military parts on screen as well. When Director John Ford became ill and unable to finish directing The Were Expendable, in which Montgomery starred, the actor took over directing some of the PT boat scenes. He was officially credited as a director in 1947’s Lady in the Lake, which was shot in a first-person viewpoint from Montgomery’s character. The only time one actually sees the man is when he looks in a mirror.

Montgomery went on to host a television show, “Robert Montgomery Presents” and even had a job as President Eisenhower’s unpaid consultant, giving advice to make the leader look his best on television. This gent is also father to Elizabeth Montgomery, whom we all know as Samantha on “Bewitched”. He died from cancer in 1981 at age 77.

I have a list going of his movies that has proved a difficult feat to work through as most are not available on DVD and TCM does not air enough of his stuff. Nevertheless, I relish the opportunity to watch anything he has done.

Source: TCM.com

Yellow Jack

Gasser

Yellow Jack (1938)

     Robert Montgomery the soldier is certainly not my favorite incarnation of what has proven to be my favorite classic Hollywood hunk of the moment. I prefer the tuxedo-clad woman-chaser, a hint of which is found in Yellow Jack making it an enjoyable Montgomery flick.

     Montgomery is Sgt. O’Hara, part of the American medical corps stationed in Cuba in 1900 at the close of the Spanish-American war. Troops are being retained on the island as military doctors search for the cause of Yellow Fever, which seems to find a new victim very day. Discovering a particularly curious incident involving one soldier becoming ill after spending 10 days sharing food, water and lodging with a dozen other soldiers who remain well, Maj. Walter Reed (Lewis Stone) begins to suspect an insect bite is to blame. Information from another doctor on the island has the major looking to a particular species of mosquito as the culprit, but must experiment on men to prove it.

     When no soldiers immediately volunteer to take on such a risky job, nurse Francis Blake (Virginia Bruce) decides to take advantage of O’Hara’s fond feelings for her by trying to pursuade him to volunteer while on a romantic outing. O’Hara is offended and angry with the girl, but when he discovers his men are morally inclined to becoming involved but too scared to make a move, he opts to lead the way. An interesting experiment set up has O’Hara in a safe position, but to prove he is not immune to the disease, he must expose himself to the infected mosquitoes. Francis is opposed to the risk, but the soldier goes through and battles with Yellow Fever.

    Montgomery uses a subtle Irish accent for his character that I particularly liked. It made him seem more every-man unlike the wealthy roles he regularly played. He did not seem like a cad in his pursuit of the nurse but humble and genuine. Among his fellow soldier characters was Buddy Ebsen as “Jellybeans” who lent the entirity of comic relief as a redneck goofball.

Cinematic Shorts: The Divorcee

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The Divorcée (1930)

     The Divorcée makes for a great study in film history. It not only illustrates the liberal sexual subjects able to be portrayed in the time before the Production Code banned anything seemingly indecent, but it shows all too well the double standard of infidelity between men and women in the 1930s. Additionally, Norma Shearer appears in the type of role that she seemed to own during those pre-code days.

     The film begins with the intensely enamored couple Jerry (Shearer) and Ted (Chester Morris) deciding to get married, much to the chagrin of womanizer Don, a role perfect for Robert Montgomery. Three years later as the couple prepare to celebrate their third anniversary, Jerry learns her husband has been cheating on her. She manages, whether deliberately or not, to sleep with Don, her husband’s best friend. Although she reveals the affair to Ted, she does not say who the man is, and a slimy Don has fled the country to avoid any trouble.

     Although Jerry is willing to forgive Ted’s longtime indiscretion with another woman, Ted is appalled by his wife’s behavior and the two divorce. Jerry now lives life to the fullest with all sorts of men, but prepares to settle down with Paul (Conrad Nagel), who had loved her before her marriage. The trouble is Paul is married, and at the last minute his wife begs to retain him. Jerry and Ted manage to find a happy ending, although one might question to the extent either can be happy given the lives they have lived in the meantime.

     Although Norma Shearer began her career in nice-girl sorts of roles, she managed to use her marriage to MGM Production Manager Irving Thalberg to land the spicy spots for which she would come to be known. The story goes that Shearer had sexy pictures taken of herself, which she provided to Thalberg as proof she could embody such roles. Specifically she was angling for The Divorcée, the first in a long run of racy flicks and one that garnered her the Best Actress Oscar.

     I must add that as much as I love Montgomery and have accepted with open arms the many womanizing and otherwise selfish romantic roles he plays, he was a bit weasly in The Divorcée. As much as I was rooting for Shearer to hook up with him, I hoped it would be permanent, not an awkward day-after situation in which Don had clearly gotten what he desired an now wanted out and away from the danger of an angry husband. I’m sure that was the intention of the role, and he played it well, but I need a redeeming picture to get him back in my good graces.

Source: Robert Osborne

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